Auburn veterinarians perform rare heart procedure on thoroughbred jumping horse

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Veterinarians at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine have successfully conducted their first-ever procedure to correct atrial fibrillation in an equine patient, being one of only a handful of veterinary schools nationwide able to perform the procedure.

Both the medical team and horse owner are excited about the results. The procedure on Moissanite, a 6-year-old thoroughbred jumping horse, involved a team of large and small animal faculty veterinarians and technicians from cardiology, equine medicine, anesthesia and radiology services in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Atrial fibrillation—commonly known as AFib—occurs in humans and large animals, says Dr. Seung-Woo Jung, an assistant professor of cardiology in the Department of Clinical Sciences who sees both large and small animal cases.

"A true veterinary team effort was put together to conduct this procedure, and because it was the first time we have conducted a TVEC [transvenous electrical cardioversion] procedure on a horse, it provided a wonderful educational opportunity for our staff and veterinary students," Dr. Jung said.

AFib is an arrhythmia with an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. A normally beating heart contracts and relaxes to a regular beat. In AFib, the upper chambers of the heart—the atria—do not contract, which results in a decrease in blood volume pumped from the heart to the rest of the body.

"When AFib is discovered, it is very important to return the arrhythmia to a normal sinus rhythm, but not every veterinary hospital will attempt this with a large animal such as a horse," Dr. Jung said. "Risk factors include development of scar tissue in the heart and extreme lethargy, and in the case of a horse, it can lead to the animal not being able to perform."

Moissanite was diagnosed by his primary veterinarians, Drs. Charlene Cook and Lauren Shamon with Central Georgia Equine Services in Fort Valley, Georgia.

"I had taken Moissanite in to have his teeth floated [a normal dental procedure to manage the length of a horse’s continually growing teeth]," said owner Katlynn Cross of Perry, Georgia. "It was during the routine examination for the dental procedure that Dr. Shamon discovered the irregular heartbeat. She recommended that we contact Auburn, so that is what we did."

The thoroughbred was admitted to Auburn on March 5 and underwent the TVEC procedure.

"For a TVEC procedure, we insert catheters into the heart through the animal’s neck," Dr. Jung said. "We then deliver an electrical impulse to reset the heart rhythm. This was done on Tuesday, March 6, and the result was a complete success with no complication."

After remaining under observation as an ICU patient overnight, Moissanite was re-examined and discharged to her owner on March 7.

"The veterinary group at Auburn is phenomenal," said a grateful Cross. "I am a worrier and this was a stressful event for me. The medical team kept me informed and calm throughout the entire process, and I am so happy with the outcome. My horse is acting normal and does not seem to have any adverse effects or complications."

Cross says she plans to return Moissanite to his jumping career soon.

The case is an example of Auburn faculty delivering life-changing solutions while providing students an extraordinary, hands-on educational experience.

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The College of Veterinary Medicine is the South's original and nation's seventh oldest veterinary medical program, celebrating 126 years. We prepare individuals for careers of excellence in veterinary medicine, including private and public practice, industrial medicine, academics, and research. The college provides programs of instruction, research, outreach, and service that are in the best interests of the citizens of the state of Alabama, the region, the nation, and the world.